The military has long been interested in what medical ethicist Jonathan Moreno calls “the whole supersoldier business” — using technology to produce bionically or pharmaceutically superior warfighters. Moreno, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is interested too. Specifically, in one question that keeps gnawing at him: How much can a soldier’s brain bear?
“You can know that with a backpack — 60, 70 pounds — there is a limit,” he tells Future Human. “But what are the kinds of limits to the neurotechnologies that a soldier can carry around?”
Moreno’s discussions on this topic with his former postdoc, Nick Evans, now a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, together with Lowell forensic psychologist Neil Shortland and Michael Gross of the University of Haifa quickly turned into action. In January, the group, under Evans’ leadership, received funding for a new project to investigate the ethics of soldiers’ participation in experiments with “AI-driven performance enhancements,” like brain-computer interfaces that augment a person’s natural abilities.
Early experiments in this field are already happening, and the possible risks for soldiers who take part in them merit attention. But the technology’s potential is enticing, and military agencies have to weigh those two considerations against each other. The group’s research funding comes from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research via the Minerva Research Initiative, a social science arm of the Department of Defense (DOD), which has a particular interest in human enhancement. And there’s good reason to believe the group’s findings will be relevant for civilians, too.
“AI-driven performance enhancements” encompass many technologies, but those that get the most attention are brain-computer interfaces (BCIs): devices that connect human minds to machines powered by artificially intelligent software. BCIs have the potential to let paralyzed people move, warn people who suffer from epilepsy of oncoming seizures, or give timed-and-targeted electrical boosts to those with…